Rx for Writers


"Working With Editors" with Cheryl Zach.

Thursday, September 5, 2002

Moderator is Kristi Holl, web editor for this site and author of 24 books and 150+ articles. She also taught writing for children for 15 years.

Cheryl is Cheryl Zach, award-winning author of over thirty juvenile novels. With daughter Michelle Place she also writes historical romance for adults as Nicole Byrd.

Names color coded in blue are viewers who had questions.

Interviews are held on Thursday nights for two hours beginning [9 CANADA/Atlantic], 8 Eastern, 7 Central, 6 Mountain, and 5 Pacific.

Moderator: Good evening, everyone! I'm your moderator, Kristi Holl, and tonight I have with me Cheryl Zach, who is going to talk with us about "Working With Editors." Cheryl has won awards for her writing and has published over thirty juvenile novels, working with editors at major houses. She's ready to share some "behind the scenes" information with us tonight. Welcome, Cheryl!

Cheryl: Thanks, delighted to be here. :)

Moderator: How did you get started writing, Cheryl?

Cheryl: I was a high school teacher, but had wanted all my life to write. Spent a lot of time trying to learn how, then discovered writing conferences. Then my husband's job took us to the West Coast and I found lots of conferences, classes, critique groups, etc. I sold the first book a year later!

Moderator: Are editors (both book and magazine) still willing to look at a beginner's ideas?

Cheryl: Many of them, yes. Magazine editors always want good writers, published before or not. Some book publishers are open to new writers and unsolicited manuscript, some not, though sometimes there are ways around that, such as writing contests hosted by companies such as Bantam and Delacorte, and also, editors who speak at conferences will sometimes take manuscript or queries from writers who have come to hear them speak.

Moderator: When you have no publishing credits to list and no impressive resume, what can a writer put in his cover letter?

Cheryl: Put anything that is pertinent to this manuscript, such as if you are a science teacher writing about a science topic, or you can mention professional memberships and classes.

Moderator: Do you query for both fiction and nonfiction (magazines)? Or just nonfiction?

Cheryl: Most of the time, just nonfiction; most editors prefer to see the whole manuscript with fiction; check writers' guidelines for each magazine to determine its preferences.

Moderator: Writers are always told to "develop a relationship with an editor". How can you do this with magazine editors?

Cheryl: Send them lots of good manuscript or good queries, and they will remember you! When you do get a contract, deliver it in good shape and on time.

Moderator: When publishing with magazines, how much editorial contact can you expect?

Cheryl: Depends on the editor; they are very busy people, but some do have time to call you and discuss an idea, for example. Otherwise, if you send a manuscript in good shape, they may buy it and do some slight revision without contacting you. They only want to make it fit their magazine's style, so this is usually not a problem.

Moderator: Can you describe the functions of various editors: editor-in-chief, acquisitions editor, associate editor, and copyeditor?

Cheryl: Acquisitions editor is just that, she/he will look at new manuscripts and queries. Editor-in-chief is in charge of many functions, including some of the business side. Associate editors and assistant editors are ranks on the ladder. Copyeditor has to do with making sure usage and spelling are correct and the manuscript is set up according to the magazine or publisher's own house style guides.

Moderator: When you see various editors listed in a market guide, which one should you send it to if an Acquisitions Editor isn't listed?

Cheryl: I've heard it advised that you pick one of the junior editors, as he or she may have more time to look at submissions. You rarely send it to the editor-in-chief!

Moderator: Do they list junior editors in the market guides or listings?

Cheryl: Sometimes. If it's a publishing house, keep in mind that many will have all the editors come together to discuss new contract offers and which manuscript will make the final cut. So the editor-in-chief will certainly have a say in the process.

Moderator: How do you address an editor? By his/her first name? Title and last name?

Cheryl: Always use Mr. or Ms. Be professional and use business letter format. You should always act like a professional; I can't stress that enough. When you have done enough business with an editor that he/she calls you by your first name, then you can do the same :)

Moderator: So when an editor responds to your query or submission and signs with his/her first name, do you then address the editor by his first name?

Cheryl: You can, yes. If you're not comfortable, from the tone of the letter, say Mr. Jones and wait till the next note.

Pilarb: The Cricket Magazine group says on their online guidelines to send the manuscript to the submissions editor. Is that what we should do? Or should we still put an editor's name on the envelope?

Cheryl: No, several magazines are asking for that now, and I would follow directions. If you have met an editor or heard him/her speak at a conference, always mention that in a letter, too.

Moderator: In relation to your manuscript, what exactly is an editor's job?

Cheryl: The acquiring editor wants to find good material that suits his or her publications' needs. That's the main focus, of course. If they see a promising writer but not the right idea, they may encourage you to submit again. Once the manuscript has been bought, they will help you polish and suggest revisions.

Red2: I received a reply on a status inquiry, and the editor said that she would let me know where my manuscript is in the seven layer review process. What does that mean?

Cheryl: That means that several people have to review it, perhaps for slightly different reasons. If the magazine has a theme or editorial focus, they may want to see if your idea is close to what they need for a certain issue. Or several people may have to check out the information to see that you did your research, then they have to agree that the writing is of high standard. Nothing simple about it!

Pilarb: If you know that a publisher is looking for more of a certain thing, like nonfiction articles, is it ever okay to write on the envelope that it is a "nonfiction submission" or a "rebus story" etc.?

Cheryl: It won't hurt, but not sure how much it will help. Mostly, an assistant will open and log the submission into the computer so they have it on file. They will indeed look at what is sent, although quickly, to see if it doesn't seem right for them or if the presentation is not professional.

Moderator: We keep hearing that editors don't have time to edit like they used to. True or not?

Cheryl: I think this is true; I have it heard it from editors, though not all agree. Most editors still care very much about finding good material and making it even better, and they care about what they publish, which is the good news, but many houses and magazines do have fewer staff members than they used to.

Moderator: How "perfect" or "close to publishing" do editors now expect a manuscript submission to be?

Cheryl: As perfect as you can get it! Seriously, it should be professional and high quality, and you should always send out your very best work and be sure to check for typos, etc. You must look and act professionally.

Patty: Some people say that if you're submitting an unsolicited manuscripts you're better off sending it to the slush pile so it will get directed to the right editor. Others say you should have an editor's name, no matter what. What do you think?

Cheryl: Depends on each house or magazine. If they say send to the Submissions Editor, that's probably how their process works, regardless. But if you have heard a certain editor speak, and she said she needed more middle grade mystery stories, or more science articles or historical topics, then by all means, direct the manuscript or the query to her.

Acoile: If you acquire an agent for a picture book manuscript, then is it likely that the agent will push you to write another picture book or can you write something else like a middle grade? What is the best approach if you know ahead of time that you want to write for different age groups?

Cheryl: First, communication with the agent, in that he or she knows that you plan to write for different age groups. Obviously, if you publish one picture book and it does well, wins an award, and gets great reviews, the agent and your publisher will be interested in you doing more. Some agents and editors also like you to establish a certain type of work that you are known for, but most also realize that you may have more than one age group or genre with which you are interested in writing. Just be clear about it up front, so no one is disappointed later.

Bettyboop: I have been told that we should send business card with our queries or cover letters. How big an impact do business cards make on the editors, if any?

Cheryl: Not really necessary if the letter is professional and has all the info there; I would be sure to include your e-mail address nowadays. I have had editors reply to a query by e-mail. However most do not want e-mail queries unless they say so.

Yawriter: Hi, Cheryl, this is Wanda from Wildacres. What makes a good query?

Cheryl: Hi, Wanda ! (Hugs) A good query is short, professional, has the pertinent info, shows your personal and unique writing style, and makes the editor want to see more. Not much to ask of a page, huh? :)

Pilarb: Is it best to send one manuscript to a publisher and then wait for a reply before sending them another one?

Cheryl: People have different opinions about that. Most editors will accept multiple queries or queries with a sample chapter, but sending in the complete manuscript varies. Some publishers will accept multiple submissions, and say so in market guides. Some do not want them. It's better to be upfront about it. If you are ever caught, publishing is a small world, and I prefer to be honest, anyhow. Just say, if you do send a multiple submission, this manuscript is under consideration by another editor, and you're covered.

Acoile: I've heard that business cards might make you look like an amateur, like having "Writer" after your name looks amateurish. But at the same time if you don't put "writer" on it, no one knows what it's for. Should we just steer clear of business cards?

Cheryl: Business cards are for handing out to editors when you meet them at conferences, retreats, and similar writing events. Writer or author or freelance writer are all fine. You're not going to say rocket scientist--joke.

Dmd: What is the average length of time from submission to a publisher to the actual printing?

Cheryl: Wow, hard question. Magazine, book publisher, both can vary. With magazines, six months to two years, average. With book publishers, one to two years, on average.

Lisa: As a beginning writer, is it better to go local or try for contests?

Cheryl: Why not do both? It's always good to try regional or smaller presses as competition may not be as intense, but that doesn't mean you can't try bigger houses or publications, too. And the contests are also good.

Dmd: Is it possible that it would be less time than 1 or 2 years from submission to publication?

Cheryl: Certainly, it all depends on the publication and what exactly you have sent them. Sometimes there are very topical ideas which need to go out quickly.

Keymoo: What is the biggest turnoff for an editor: bad cover letter, or a writer inquiring too soon about a submission?

Cheryl: A bad cover letter will cool your chances, but if the first page of the manuscript is terrific, it might not kill it. I think the worst of unprofessional manuscripts are single spaced, on lavender paper, contain spelling errors, the editor's name is spelled wrong, etc. If it looks sloppy, how can they pay it much attention?

Dmd: Is it true that editors hate to get manuscripts from new writers?

Cheryl: No, they love to find talented new people.

Stephmc: I have a book that we have broken into two books. The short book is 38 pages, the long book is 90. One is a horizontal picture book for younger children and the other is a longer version of the same book for middle grades. It would be appropriate to send those together, would it not?

Cheryl: Interesting question. The only thing is that you're then competing against yourself, which editors do not always recommend. For the same reason, I've heard editors advise a writer not to send 3 or 4 book manuscript at one time. I would send them separately, myself, and if the editor says, this looks as if it would work better for a younger or older audience, then try the other manuscript.

Acoile: What is the most appropriate way to query about the status of a submission that is taking longer than expected?

Cheryl: Usually, a polite letter asking if the manuscript is still under consideration because if not, I wish to submit it elsewhere. If they don't answer your letter (with SASE enclosed) you can also try a phone call, but can't always get through. If you do, again, just ask the status of the manuscript.

Ckm: How important is it to have an agent who handles only children's authors as opposed to adult authors also?

Cheryl: The thing that's important is that the agent be familiar with the children's market. Remember that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all.

Patty: What should a writer do if an editor says her manuscript is being held for possible publication later? Is it okay to submit it elsewhere while it's being held?

Cheryl: Depends on how sure they are if they will publish it later. If not sure, I would certainly submit it other places. And if you sell it, then be sure to let the first company know at once.

Leslie: Is an agent really advantageous?

Cheryl: Depends:) For a beginner, they won't get you more $, but will get the manuscript looked at more quickly and either a quicker yes or no or maybe. For authors with several books out there, you may want the career guidance. Though again, that depends on the agent and how good he or she is. The thing to remember is that an agent can NOT sell a manuscript that is not salable, and that you can sell yourself any manuscript that is really really good. The last part is the kicker :)

dmd: Will editors consider manuscripts submitted directly without the use of an agent?

Cheryl: Many of them will. Some will not; you have to check the market guides.

Kim: Do you feel that an agent is worthwhile, or do you feel that it is best to try on your own first?

Cheryl: I think that with magazines, you should certainly try yourself. With books, it depends. An agent can be helpful, but you can spend the same time and energy finding a reputable agent as you might spend finding a publisher. And it will be much easier to get a good agent after you've sold the first book.

pilarb: What are the rules on envelope size and folding manuscripts for submission?

Cheryl: Anything over a page or two should be sent flat in an appropriately sized envelope, with SASE included, that can be folded.

dmd: How long should a writer wait from the time of submission to the time of the query about the status of the manuscript?

Cheryl: 3 to 4 months, usually.

jim: Would a newly hired editor be more open to new writers?

Cheryl: That's possible, and I've heard writers advised to watch for new editors, especially at book publishers, who are looking for their own 'stable' of writers and will therefore be especially keen on reading submissions.

leslie: What do you think about listing a manuscript on an online site for consideration?

Cheryl: To be honest, I doubt that an editor has the time to cruise online looking at unpublished writers' works.

leslie: I think I need to clarify my last question. Some publishing companies specifically use an online source for unsolicited manuscripts. Would listing it with that particular site (not on my own) be advantageous?

Cheryl: I'm not familiar with that practice, to be honest, so it's hard for me to say.

Moderator: I know that some Christian publishers want you to use such a source, but I never have tried it, partly because there was a fee, and I'm rather a cheapskate sometimes. I would be interested to hear if any of you have been successful using this type of thing.

Dmd: How might you know who are the new editors?

Cheryl: Read the market guides, like CHILDREN'S WRITER, or their website, or SCBWI market guides and web site.

mbvoelker: How much "working with" editors is reasonable to expect for different sorts of writing -- long, short, fiction, not? Are there types of writing that editors put more energy into and others that they just take or leave according to what the writer did with the piece?

Cheryl: Well, yes. Of course, different manuscripts will merit different treatments, so many variables in the question. Generally, book editors have more time to work with manuscripts they are buying, and different houses probably have different habits, too. Some houses will spend a year or two just getting the manuscript as good as possible. Others may have a space in their list that needs to be filled and will hurry to get a book, especially if in good shape to start with, out.

dmd: When a writer advised the publisher(s) that the manuscript is being submitted to multiple publishers for consideration, does this encourage the publisher to look at it quickly and decide if they might want it before someone else snaps it up?

Cheryl: Sometimes, if they are impressed with the manuscript style and quality, and if it's a timely subject.

Kim: How do you decide between a magazine or a book publisher? I have some stories that could be either one.

Cheryl: Usually length and other things. Obviously a ten page middle grade story will be suitable for magazines, not books, as it's not long enough for a book. With younger ages it depends of how many good pictures the story suggests and how many times a child and parent will want to read the book over and over, to justify the much high price.

Moderator: What things in a query mark you as an amateur?

Cheryl: Bad writing and grammar :) Telling the editor that your grandkids just love this story. Of course they do, they love you! But this doesn't sound professional. Telling them how many rejections you've had--not necessary!

Moderator: Can you send multiple queries? If so, must you inform the editor?

Cheryl: Multiple queries are fine, though I would inform the editor that 'another editor' has been queried. That covers any number.

Moderator: Do you personally send multiple submissions? If so, must you inform the editor that it is a simultaneous submission?

Cheryl: I have not personally sent multiple submissions, as I try to target houses as closely as possible, and when I started out, it was not a common practice. However, I might one of these days, you never know. :)

Moderator: About contracts--another time you work with an editor--what are some signs of a poor contract?

Cheryl: With a book publisher, make sure there are provisions for what happens when a book goes out of print, in that you know how to get your rights back. And there are others. With magazines, the big debate is whether or not to sell to magazines which want all rights or those which buy first time North American rights only, for example.

Moderator: At what point in your career do you need an agent to be a go-between with an editor?

Cheryl: Most of the time, it's after you've sold a few books and you want more help with marketing, more help with contracts, which gets more important as you get more books out and perhaps with putting a career plan into effect, though not that that is always within your control.

dmd: Does this mean that if your book goes out of print from one house, you can submit it for publication to another house?

Cheryl: Sometimes, or you might sell it overseas in translation or you might sell it for online use. Or it might be sold, or parts of it, to an educational publisher. You never know, but unless you have the rights, you can't do anything.

Moderator: How do you go about finding a good agent?

Cheryl: You can check the agents' association, the Association of Authors' Representatives, I think, and it's listed in many writing market guides. They're online on a website too, which is handy. And you can talk to published writers you know to see about an agent's reputation. If you're talking to an agent, you can ask for names of his or her clients or some of them; this is a legitimate question.

acoile: Since so many houses are not looking at unsolicited manuscripts anymore, especially in light of 9/11, is it more necessary now to get an agent early on if at all possible?

Cheryl: Yes! The problem, as I said, is that a good agent is very hard to find. You can also try publisher contests. You can also attend writing conferences where editors and agents speak, and you may find them more open to your manuscript or queries. And learn as much as you can about writing and the process of publishing, so you look professional and are ready with the best work when your opportunity comes.

acoile: If an agent says: "That's confidential" when asking about some of their clients, is it justifiable to look elsewhere for an agent?

Cheryl: I would.

Sonrise: What is the correct term for yourself when you help another writer get their thoughts into book format for presentation to a publisher?

Cheryl: It could be ghost writer, it could be collaborator; I would be sure you're clear on this with the other person before the manuscript or query is submitted. You may want a written contract with everything spelled out.

Moderator: What if the editor ignores your follow-up letter inquiring about your manuscript's status? What then?

Cheryl: If they don't answer, I would send another letter telling them you consider the manuscript now available for submission elsewhere and be polite, of course; you can be professional, even when they are not!

Moderator: What about after your manuscript sells? What things can you ask your editor then? Should you call or write your editor once they have bought your story/article/book?

Cheryl: Generally, he or she will call you! A wonderful phone call. Then you can discuss the manuscript and if it's a book, this will be just the beginning of lots of contact with your editor. You'll most likely get a revision letter, which you may also want to discuss. You may agree with some of the suggestions and not others. You may discuss the title, change it or not, and cover art ideas. If you have ideas for marketing, you can offer them to your editor or PR person. If you are willing to do school visits and other talks, your editor should know; she will likely love that :)

Moderator: Most editors ask for revisions. Should you make revisions before signing a contract?

Cheryl: That's your choice; early on, I was asked to revise several manuscripts; some sold and some didn't, about 50%, but I thought it was worth my time, if I agreed with the suggestions, to try it. Even when they didn't sell, the manuscript later sold to someone else, if the ideas improved it. The best suggestions are specific ones, not vague things like "make the characters stronger." (As if you were trying to write weak characters?) Usually, you get an idea how interested the editor is, though sometimes the final choice is not in his or her hands.

Moderator: Do you follow all your editor's suggestions? Why or why not?

Cheryl: No, but I always listen carefully. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold, (excuse the cliché) because they want the book to be as good as it can, which is exactly what I want. If I don't agree, however, I will discuss with them why, and most of the time, the editors will agree.

Moderator: If you don't take all your editor's suggestions for revision, will she choose to work with another writer instead? In other words, if you want to be published, do you need to make the changes whether you agree or not?

Cheryl: Usually, you'll know how vital the editor thinks the changes are, especially if it's that essential. The biggest problem would be an author who refuses to make any changes at all, and in that case, the writer might get dropped as too hard to work with.

Moderator: What about changes that are made without asking you, such as those made by copy editors? How do you deal with that?

Cheryl: With a book manuscript, you will get a copy of the edited manuscript, and you can read it and judge the changes. Small things I would let go, but any big changes that I don't agree with, I would change back or discuss doing so with my original editor. Many copyeditors are great, but some are...not. (Evil grin.)

acoile: Is it better to get manuscripts that are good out in circulation to see the reply, or to wait until your writing is much more polished to send anything out?

Cheryl: You're wasting their time, and yours, if you know you can make it better. I'd learn your craft first, as much as possible, and always keep striving to be better.

Acoile: Which tends to go out of print more quickly, a nonfiction book or a fiction book?

Cheryl: Both tend to go out of print more quickly than they used to, which is very sad for all concerned. Obviously, nonfiction on many subjects can become dated, so they have to revise if they do stay in print. Fiction? It depends on how many are selling; unhappily, children's books today are more like adult in that they can have shorter shelf lives.

dmd: If a book is accepted by the publisher for publication, who assumes the cost of the first printing?

Cheryl: ALWAYS the publisher. Do not work with people who ask you for money. NO NO. Vanity presses have no respect from 'real' publishers.

Dmd: If the book is published, how does the writer get paid? Is it a lump sum or a percentage of the books sold?

Cheryl: Both; it can be flat fee, or royalty, which authors obviously prefer. If it doesn't sell a lot, you may not earn more than the advance (which is an advance against royalty, so it must be 'earned out' before you make more.) But if the book does well, the author, in my view, should certainly share in the profit.

Sonrise: Once a contract is signed, and the manuscript is submitted, how long does it take to see the book on the shelves?

Cheryl: Most often, a year to two.

stephmc: Not to narrow you down in any way, but what would be a ball park guestimate of what one might expect for an advance? Are we talking in the hundreds of dollars or thousands?

Cheryl: Hard to answer, as you can guess, as publishers vary a lot, and it also depends on first book, established author, etc., but picture books (advance will be split with illustrator) will earn thousand or two in advance, middle grade 2 to 5 thousand, YA (young adult) in the same ball park. Smaller publishers will pay less, of course.

ckm: Does your editor tell you when your book goes to a second printing? And how do you find out how it's selling?

Cheryl: Your editor should tell you, and you'll find out from your royalty statements, which typically you will receive twice a year.

Yawriter: My students are reading your books you signed for me. Have any more in the makings?

Cheryl: I'm been spending most of my time the last three years on adult books, but yes, I have a middle grade which I'm sending out as we speak.

Moderator: I'm sorry to have to stop here, but we're out of time. I think this is a subject that we could discuss for the next several hours at least! Cheryl, thank you so much for coming tonight and sharing with us on this topic of special interest. We appreciate it!

Cheryl: It's my pleasure. Good luck to everyone!

Moderator: Do come back in two weeks on September 19 when we'll have Jane Buchanan speaking on "Writing Historical Fiction." And now, good night, everyone!

Return to Transcripts

93 Long Ridge Road, West Redding, CT 06896

Home | Writing Course | Short Story  | Full Story | Aptitude Test 
Send Me Info | EnrollOur Instructors | Our Credentials | Sample Lesson
College Credits |
Tax Deductibility | Writer's Bookstore | Contact Us 
Newsletter | Writing Contests | Write for Adults | Free Writer's News
Rx for Writers | Writing Tips  | Transcripts  | Writer's Retreat
Writer's Support  | Student  Center |  Privacy Policy | Web Editor

Copyright Institute for Writers LLC, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015
No part of the electronic transmission to which this notice is appended may be reproduced or redistributed in any form or manner without the express written permission of Institute for Writers LLC